The origins of speculative fiction in India are twofold; first, the incredible wealth of mythical, historical and folklore traditions, and second, the incredibly popular genres of science fiction and fantasy in both literature and film in the West.
Thousands of years ago, flying saucers, death-rays, hideous alien monsters and incredible machines were captured by Indian writers in tales of wonder and imagination, massive epics that still enthrall the world. India is a country crawling with legends, folk-tales, mysteries, horrors and supreme strangeness, which should have rendered Indians strongly culturally geared towards a fondness for fantasy and science fiction. It is surprising, to say the least, that even with these resources at our disposal a nation as culturally predisposed to the fantastic as we are should have produced a contemporary speculative fiction genre that is marginal at best, at least in literary terms, especially since the speculative works of authors like Salman Rushdie and the Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Amitav Ghosh are firmly excluded from the murky depths of genre.
Market conditions and literary prejudices are held largely responsible for the lack of a strong tradition in the field of speculative fiction especially in English, but the future definitely looks bright. We’ve seen an increasing number of speculative fiction works across media over the last few years, and a slow trickle of fantasy and science fiction manuscripts has slowly begun to weigh down desks in Indian publishing houses . This project will discuss future roads down which Indian writers seeking to produce successful speculative fiction might do well to tread if we are to have a body of work in the field that matches western sci-fi and fantasy in quality and richness, while simultaneously possessing a strong and distinct Indian/South Asian identity – new themes, new ideas, new colours in the already bewildering palette of spec-fic. We’ll be discussing not just the literary aspect of things, but the practicalities as well – markets, publishing, access, publicity.
The Trousers of Time, as tailored by Terry Pratchett, are where possible futures are divided, and right now there’s no way of knowing which leg Indian speculative fiction will be hurtling down. I’ve been writing fantasy for four years now, and I for one don’t know at all. This project is, in many ways, a speculative work in itself, and is by no means finished at this point – how could it be, when the genre it discusses is just getting started? Consider this a first draft. I’ll be putting up more material from time to time, and you should add corrections, suggestions, comments and developments as the future becomes clearer, threads fray and tear, and seams bulge all over the place.
Before we get into this, though, there are several people to thank: The good people at Sarai-CSDS, who gave me one of their Independent Fellowships to do this, and the writers, critics and editors who contributed so generously to it.
Jai Arjun Singh
Mary Anne Mohanraj